My nephew’s birthday party turned out to be a great example of the power of Behavior Management. It was my first time at laser tag, accompanied by fifteen screaming, eight-year-old boys.
We first entered a mysterious dark room with neon painted walls. An employee, a young man in his twenties, jumped onto a platform to address the kids. With a raised, but controlled authoritative voice, he announced The Rules. Those rules were printed behind him in large glowing letters. The rules were specific and pertained to playing safely and being respectful of others. He made the boys repeat the ten rules back to him – which they did with great enthusiasm.
This approach drew the boys in. They made sustained eye contact and repeated the rules word-for-word in unison like an army platoon. Next, the young man made the boys agree verbally to abide by the rules or else they’d be expelled from the game. No second chances. And not until everyone agreed, did he push a button that opened a second door allowing us all access to the large laser play area.
All the elements of good behavior management were in place. It worked like a charm. Even running through mazes and shooting laser guns, with music blaring, these active eight-year-olds held it together.
That’s the power of behavior management!
My story doesn’t end there. After laser tag was over, things fell apart. I’m a psychologist and even I didn’t see it coming.
The kids filed into an adjacent private room with a long table decorated for the birthday party. Balloons were arranged in a wonderful centerpiece. Boxes of fresh pizza were stacked up ready to eat. A beautiful cake was decorated in a Star Wars theme.
Quickly, behavior started to deteriorate. One or two boys left their chairs and roamed around. One kid faked that he had to leave early so he could get his goodie bag before the others, then he showed his goodies off to other boys who started to demand they get their bags too. As soon as parents turned their backs to cut the cake, the balloons were grabbed, separated, and escaped up to the high ceiling. I saw one boy literally trying to climb a wall, and another pushing open an alarmed exit door. He told me he wanted to get outdoors to run. The noise level inside was greater than the crowded main lobby.
These were the same 15 boys who had done so well with laser guns only 5 minutes earlier! What happened? No rules were announced before they entered the party room. No expectations set. No consequences discussed. That made all the difference.
The lesson is this. Never expect kids (boys especially) to carry the rules in their heads from one activity to another, especially at this age. And it’s worth doing the work upfront if you want to have more productive fun and less stress.
Oh – one more thing – if you can, hire the guy at Laser Tag to set up your rules. He was amazing!